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Another Valuable Contribution to the History of the Martyr
President.—Was Abraham Lincoln an Infidel?—A Painstaking
Examination of the Case by An Old Acquaintance.—Important
Testimony of Contemporaneous Witnesses.—History
of the Famous Manuscript of 1833.—Mentor Graham
Says It Was a Defence of Christianity.—The Burned Manuscript
Quite a Different Affair.—The Charge of Infidelity in
1848, Said to Have Been Disproved at the Time.—Letter of
Hon. Wm. Reid, U. S. Consul at Dundee, Scotland.
By B. F. Irwin
Pleasant Plains, Ill., April 20, 1874.
Editor State Journal: For some time, I believe, in 1870 there has been a constant and continued effort upon the part of the Hon. W. H. Herndon, Springfield, Ill., to convince and prove to the world that Abraham Lincoln lived and died an infidel. He has succeded, as I suppose, in proving that proposition to his own entire satisfaction and probably to the satisfaction of some others. The last effort I have noticed upon the subject was Herndon's reply to the Rev. J. A. Reed, in a lecture delivered in the court house in Springfield, some months ago. A few days after that lecture was delivered, I was urgently requested by a prominent minister of the gospel and friend of Lincoln's (and also a lady friend now residing in Kansas) to review that speech. I promised each of those persons I would do so at the proper time. That time has now arrived, and I propose noticing a few points in the address of Mr. Herndon,
also a point or two in his Abbott letter and I think I will be able to show that Mr. Herndon, himself, never knew or under[Pg 342]stood really what the faith of Lincoln was or what the
was. I wish it now and here understood that Mr. Herndon's candor or veracity I do not call in question. Nor will I designedly say anything to offend him. He and I have been for twenty-five years good personal friends, and I hope that friendship may continue. Mr. Herndon has a right to prove Mr. Lincoln an infidel if he can. I claim the same right to prove that
if I can. If Mr. Lincoln was an infidel, as Herndon says, it is proper for the world to know it. If he was not an infidel the charge is wrong and a slander, for infidelity in the nineteenth century is no honor to any man, dead or alive.
Mr. Herndon, in his speech, uses this language: "One side of this question can be proved. It is admitted on all hands that Lincoln once was an infidel; that he wrote a small book, or essay, or pamphlet against Christianity, and that he (Lincoln) continued an unbeliever until late in life." Herndon further says: "It is a rule of law, as well as a rule of common sense, that when a certain state or condition of affairs is once proved to exist, the presumption is, that it still exists until the contrary is proved." Now I stand by that proposition as a true one. Will Mr. Herndon do so? But
in his statement that "all admit that Lincoln was once an infidel." I have never yet heard one single man express the belief that Lincoln was an infidel, either early or late in life, while I am confident I have heard one hundred different persons express astonishment at Mr. Herndon writing and publishing Lincoln to the world an infidel. Mr. Herndon, it is true, did have opportunities and advantages over others in knowing Mr. Lincoln's religious opinions. But other men had some opportunities as well as Mr. Herndon, and to them I shall have to appeal, for I do not claim to personally know anything about Mr. Lincoln's religious faith. Though personally acquainted with Lincoln for twenty-five years, and often in his office, I[Pg 343] never heard him say a word on the subject of Christianity or religious belief. Hence, my opinion of Lincoln's faith or belief is based on the testimony of those who do know, who had it
and I believe them, for the weight of testimony is certainly against Mr. Herndon. The Scriptures of Truth lay it down as a Divine rule, that the evidence of two or three witnesses is better than one. Common law lays down the same rule, borrowed from Divine authority, and our courts are governed by it in their decisions.
Mr. Herndon, in his
says, "He is talking to establish the truth of a controversy between those who hold that Lincoln was a disbeliever, and those who hold that he died a Christian (a believer in Christ)" and then says: "If I fail to establish my point it will be because of the manner and method of presenting the facts." I have read that lecture carefully over, and I fail to find any proof of Herndon's proposition that Lincoln ever was an infidel or an unbeliever. The nearest I see to it, is the
He uses this language, substantially: "Mr. Lincoln's earlier life is his whole life and history in Illinois up to the time he left for Washington City. He (Lincoln) was, as I understand it, a confirmed infidel." Now, Matheny fails to tell us how he got that understanding. Did he get it from Lincoln? He don't say so, and the reason he don't say so doubtless is, he got it from some other source—probably from Herndon. But clearly, to be of any weight as evidence, he must have that understanding from Mr. Lincoln himself. Mr. Matheny may have some time in life heard Lincoln use some of the
or advance infidel ideas, and still not be an infidel. I have heard an official member of the Methodist Church in this town advance as strong infidel sentiments as Tom Paine ever did, and you[Pg 344] would insult the man to say he was an infidel. So any Christian may use the language or advance some of the sentiments of Tom Paine and be far from an infidel. Lincoln may have done all that, and still not be an infidel. I do not believe Mr. Lincoln ever was an infidel, and I can truly state and say just what Matheny said. I understood Lincoln was an infidel, but I never believed the statement true. Matheny understood it: in other words, he had heard it but knew nothing about the facts in the case. I have seen Mr. Matheny since, and he states that he
that he was an infidel, and he never believed it.
If Mr. Herndon is in possession of the evidence, in writing or otherwise, to prove that Lincoln was an infidel, either earlier or later in life, he ought to bring forward the proof to sustain his proposition: for he has long since learned that the statement alone fails to satisfy the public mind that Lincoln ever was an infidel. Mr. Herndon in his
truly says the charge of infidelity was made against Mr. Lincoln when he was a candidate for Congress in 1848; and then adds: "Mr. Lincoln did not deny the charge, because it was true." The charge of infidelity was made against Lincoln at that time, and I suppose Lincoln made no public denial of the charge, for the reason that the canvass was being made on political grounds, and not religious faith or belief. This much was said at the time, as I well remember to be the facts in the case.
About the time of building the flatboat on the Sangamon River in 1830, when Lincoln was quite a young man, a
was the topic in which Lincoln took a part; and in the argument Lincoln used the language that, according to the history of the case, in the New Testament, Christ was a bastard and his mother a base woman. This he may have used at the time, as young men sometimes do use vain language, and seventeen years afterward, when he was a candidate for Congress against
[Pg 345]
a Methodist preacher, that vain remark was remembered, and Tom Paine having used similar language, Lincoln was published in some of the papers as an infidel. The above was the explanation published at the time, and the charge of infidelity did no harm. Had Lincoln been known as an infidel, or believed to be one at that time, I am certain he would have been beaten badly by Cartwright in the canvass.
Again, Mr. Herndon, in his Abbott letter (I believe it is), says: "It is not to be found in print that Lincoln ever used the word Christ." In fact, Herndon says, "he never did use it, only to deny Christ as the son of God." Now that statement may be true, that he did not use the term Christ: but if Mr. Herndon will examine the speeches of the public men of this nation, I believe I am safe in saying that Mr. Lincoln used and
than any man in the nation; and that he quoted the parables and language of Christ oftener than any public man living. Not only did Lincoln quote Scripture, but he used it as being of Divine authority, and applicable to the affairs of earth. Mr. Herndon gives us to understand that Lincoln did not believe the New Testament Scriptures to be any more inspired than Homer's songs, Milton's "Paradise Lost," or Shakspeare. If Herndon is correct, it seems strange Lincoln made no use of those books. On the 16th of January, 1858,[74] as a foundation for an argument, he used the language of Christ
in reply to Douglas. In the same campaign he four times used the parables of Christ; in his second inaugural address—"woe unto the world because of its offenses"—Christ's language, again.
But I need not multiply quotations. His speeches, proclamations, and messages are so full of quotations of scripture, always the language of Christ himself, that if an angel of light should proclaim it trumpet-tongued from the skies, that Lincoln was[Pg 346] an unbeliever in Christ, I could not believe it. He could not have been an infidel without being a base hypocrite; and I don't believe a more honest man lived on earth.
Now I will take up some evidence on the question being discussed. Mr. Herndon has said that, in Lincoln's early life, he wrote
book, or manuscript against Christianity. I propose to show that the manuscript written by Lincoln was
To do so, I will offer the evidence of Mr. Graham, who knew Lincoln when he was a boy in Kentucky, with whom Lincoln boarded some two years; and if any man on earth ought to know Lincoln's religious faith or belief, that man is Mentor Graham, who was intimate with Lincoln from the time he came to Illinois to the time he left for Washington City. I will give the letter in full.
Petersburg, Ill., March 17, 1874.
B. F. Irwin:
Sir—In reply to your inquiries, Abraham Lincoln was living at my house in New Salem, going to school, studying English grammar and surveying, in the year 1833. One morning he said to me, "Graham, what do you think about the anger of the Lord?" I replied, "I believe the Lord never was angry or mad and never would be; that His loving kindness endurest forever; that He never changes." Said Lincoln, "I have a little manuscript written, which I will show you"; and stated he thought of having it published. Offering it to me, he said he had never showed it to anyone, and still thought of having it published. The size of the manuscript was about one-half quire of foolscap, written in a very plain hand, on the subject of Christianity and a defense of universal salvation. The commencement of it was something respecting the God of the uni[Pg 347]verse never being excited, mad, or angry. I had the manuscript in my possession some week or ten days. I have read many books on the subject of theology and I don't think in point of perspicuity and plainness of reasoning, I ever read one to surpass it. I remember well his argument. He took the passage, "As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive," and followed up with the proposition that whatever the breach or injury of Adam's transgressions to the human race was, which no doubt was very great, was made just and right by the atonement of Christ.
As to Major Hill burning the manuscript, I don't believe he did, nor do I think he would have done such a thing. About the burning of a paper by Hill, I have some recollection of his snatching a letter from Lincoln and putting it into the fire. It was a letter written by Hill to McNamur. His real name was McNeal. Some of the school children had picked up the letter and handed it to Lincoln. Hill and Lincoln were talking about it, when Hill snatched the letter from Lincoln and put it into the fire. The letter was respecting a young lady, Miss Ann Rutledge, for whom all three of these gentlemen seemed to have respect. Yours truly,
Mentor Graham.
Now the next point I wish to notice is Mr. Herndon's statement, in his Abbott letter, that Lincoln, in 1846, was charged with being an infidel. Herndon says he [Lincoln] did not deny the charge, because it was true. As I have before stated, I admit the charge was made, and I think at the time there was no public denial by Lincoln, for the reason that the canvass was made on political grounds, and not religious faith or belief. Nevertheless, the charge was denied, as the following letter will show.
Pleasant Plains, Ill., April 28, 1874.
B. F. Irwin:
Sir—In regard to your inquiry, just received, of what I heard Lincoln say about a charge of infidelity made against him when a candidate for Congress in 1847, or '48, it was this. I was present and heard Josiah Grady ask Lincoln a question or two regarding a charge made against Lincoln of being an infidel, and Lincoln unqualifiedly denied the charge of infidelity, and[Pg 348] said, in addition, his parents were Baptists, and brought him up in the belief of the Christian religion; and he believed in the Christian religion as much as anyone, but was sorry to say he had or made no pretensions to religion himself. I can't give his exact words, but would make oath anywhere that he positively denied the charge made against him of infidelity. That was the first time I ever heard of the charge of infidelity against Lincoln.
Grady did not say that he would not vote for Lincoln if he was an infidel; but my understanding from Grady was, that he would not vote for Lincoln if he was an infidel, and Grady did, as I suppose, vote for him. I understood him that he should.
Thomas Mostiller.
Menard County, Ill.
The next evidence I shall offer is that of Isaac Cogdal, an intimate friend of Lincoln's from the time Lincoln came to Salem, Menard County, to the time he left for Washington City, and I will let Cogdal speak for himself.
April 10, 1874.
B. F. Irwin: Yours received making inquiries about what I heard Lincoln say about his religious belief, is this, as near as I can tell it and recollect. I think it was in 1859, I was in Lincoln's office in Springfield, and I had a curiosity to know his opinions or belief religiously; and I called on him for his faith in the presence of W. H. Herndon. At least Herndon was in the office at the time. Lincoln expressed himself in about these words: He did not nor could not believe in the endless punishment of any one of the human race. He understood punishment for sin to be a Bible doctrine; that the punishment was parental in its object, aim, and design, and intended for the good of the offender; hence it must cease when justice is satisfied. He added that all that was lost by the transgression of Adam was made good by the atonement: all that was lost by the fall was made good by the sacrifice, and he added this remark, that punishment being a "provision of the gospel system, he was not sure but the world would be better off if a little more punishment was preached by our ministers, and not so much pardon of sin." I[Pg 349] then, in reply, told Mr. Lincoln he was a sound Universalist, and would advise him to say but little about his belief, as it was an unpopular doctrine, though I fully agreed with him in sentiment. Lincoln replied that he never took any part in the argument or discussion of theological questions. Much more was said, but the above are the ideas as advanced by Lincoln there.
Respectfully yours,
Isaac Cogdal.
The next witness I shall offer on the subject is Jonathan............
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